In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

William Y. Thompson's name first appeared in these pages (June, 1956) over an article on the U.S. Sanitary Commission. He is a member of the Department of History of Louisiana Polytechnic Institute at Ruston, Louisiana. Sanitary Fairs of the Civil War WILLIAM Y. THOMPSON one of the most neglected phases of Civil War history deals with the work of the civilian miles away from the front. Pen and ink have been liberally used to describe military and political exploits, but unexplored areas still remain in the activity behind the lines. An organization which did much to further the Northern cause was the United States Sanitary Commission, organized in June, 1861, by a group of patriotic and generally self-sacrificing civilians. This group purposed to improve the sanitary condition of the Union armies and to supplement government issue to the soldiers . This it succeeded admirably in doing as it contributed services and goods to the war effort estimated at a value of $25,000,000. The problem of money to sustain its work was an ever-present one for the Commission. The most lucrative source of financial aid proved to be the Sanitary Fairs which began in the fall of 1863 and continued throughout the war. They originated in the West and, after experiencing success there, spread to all parts of the North. Generally the fairs were creations of the larger branches of the Commission, but many a small hamlet was caught up in the fervor. The pioneer Sanitary Fair was held in Chicago from October 27 through November 7, 1863. Credit for its organization belonged to a pair of energetic feminine leaders, Jane C. (Mrs. A. H.) Hoge and Mary A. (Mrs. D. P.) Livermore. They wanted a means to replenish the treasury of the Northwestern Branch of the Sanitary Commission which had been so generous in its contributions to the work, and decided that a fair would refill the dwindling coffers. On the morning of the 27th, after weeks of extended preparation, the Northwestern Sanitary Fair opened. The attention of all Chicago centered on the exposition since business for the most part was stopped, the courts closed, and the schools suspended. Chicago "for the time being [was 51 52WILLIAMY. THOMPSON turned] into a vast theatre of wonders." By nine o'clock "the city was in a roar," as a parade three miles long with roughly nine divisions began the activities. One division included wagons packed with singing children, lifting their voices together in "John Brown's Body Lies Mouldering in the Grave." Greatly cheered by the crowds were farmers bearing gifts for the fair. They came in "ricketty and lumbering wagons, made of poles, loaded with a mixed freight—a few cabbages, a bundle of socks, a coop of tame ducks, a few barrels of turnips, a pot of butter, and a bag of beans. . . ." Many contributions were made to the fair, some great, some small: "from the watchmaker's jewelry to horseshoes and harness; from lace, cloth, cotton , and linen, to iron and steel; from wooden and waxen and earthen ware to butter and cheese, bacon and beef. . . ." Specific items included a steam engine "donated by the workmen of the Eagle Works Manufacturing Co., every man contributing something—not one Copperhead in the whole institution "; there were also mowing machines, reapers, "nails by the hundred kegs . . . cologne by the barrel, native wine in casks ... a mountain howitzer, [and] a steel breech-loading cannon." Buildings on the fairgrounds served for the purposes of sale or display. The main ones were Bryan Hall, "devoted to the exhibition and sale of fancy wares, needlework, musical instruments, silver ware, dry goods, glass ware, clothing, &c"; Lower Bryan Hall, a dining room, in which nearly 1,500 people were served daily; Manufacturers' Hall, for the display of heavy machinery; a trophy hall, housing, among other pieces, captured Confederate flags; an art gallery; and Metropolitan Hall, which was used for evening entertainment. For a reasonable expenditure of seventy-five cents, one could spend the day at the fair and partake of a meal at the dining room. The great sensation of the fair was President Lincoln's gift of the original draft of...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 51-67
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.